The Post Office’s Crucial Role in Working-Class History

No Class is an op-ed column by writer and radical organizer Kim Kelly that connects worker struggles and the current state of the American labor movement with its storied — and sometimes bloodied — past.

By Kim Kelly August 27, 2020

Mailman James Daniels 59 on his mail delivery route on Friday May 15 2020 in San Clemente CA.
Irfan Khan

By now I’m sure you’ve heard the bad news: The United States Postal Service (USPS) is in trouble, and the current president is doing his damnedest to destroy it. Despite the agency’s overwhelming popularity and the essential nature of its labor, Republicans have been trying to kill off the post office for a very long time. They scored a body blow in 2006 with the bipartisan Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which required the USPS to fund retiree health care benefits decades in advance — something no other government agency has been compelled to do. Unsurprisingly, the agency has since been bleeding money (and jobs), and the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped matters. As Mark Dimond­stein, the president of the Amer­i­can Postal Work­ers Union (APWU), told In These Times in April, if Congress doesn’t step in with emergency funding, “some time between July and Sep­tem­ber, the Post Office will like­ly run out of mon­ey. And when they run out of mon­ey, their oper­a­tions will cease.”

Now, at the end of August, things have gotten much worse. Trump has continued to block desperately needed funding, and postal workers have been sounding alarms over a slate of worrisome new changes engineered by Trump’s postmaster general appointee, Louis DeJoy, a wealthy businessman with significant financial stakes in companies that compete directly with the USPS, and the first postmaster general in nearly 30 years to have come from outside the agency. Those worrisome changes include reassigning or displacing 23 USPS executives, a cut in overtime hours, reduced post office hours, and most troublingly, the removal of hundreds of iconic blue mailboxes. With multiple congressional inquiries underway, and a lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), DeJoy has grudgingly promised to halt his “reforms.” But the extent of the damage remains unclear. Mail-in voting — which has been embraced by Democrats and lambasted by Trump — remains under threat. (It’s worth noting that Trump himself requested a mail-in ballot for himself and his wife.)

The APWU represents 220,000 USPS employees and retirees, and nearly 2,000 private-sector mail workers. The group is not happy about the Trump administration’s behavior, and hasn’t been all that impressed with Congress either, which has so far failed to provide the emergency funding the agency desperately needs. “Up until now, the Trump administration has blocked the USPS from any direct financial assistance,” the union explained in a scathing August 18 press release. “The USPS is an essential public service that binds the country together and delivers vital public health information, medicine, financial transactions, and needed supplies to every American household and business and is a critical component in our election process with vote-by-mail access to the ballot box.”

Amid all of this politically manufactured chaos, postal workers have continued to do their jobs, delivering mail, medicine, and other essentials to people across the country; the work they do and the long hours they put in directly benefit some of the country’s most vulnerable communities. Postal workers are truly essential, and it’s nothing short of evil that the Trump administration is targeting them, their livelihoods, and the people who depend on them — in the middle of an economic tailspin… as a deadly pandemic rages. As the APWU says, “We do our job. Congress and the administration need to do theirs and ensure that postal workers can safely and reliably deliver for the people of the country during this year and beyond….”

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, text that says 'Dr. King wanted an Occupation JOBS Save Postai Jobs! BALLOT MEN U$ LESOAY UNIONS FOR ALL Dr. King wanted an Occupation for JOBS Hands Off the Post Office!'
Rally to Save The Post Office August 22, 2020, Milwaukee, WI

Photo: Wisconsin Bail Out The People Movement

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